Can President Obama change press coverage?
His release of his birth certificate on Wednesday morning was intended to silence conservatives, particularly potential presidential candidate Donald Trump, who have repeatedly suggested he was not born in the United States.
But in his brief speech, Obama argued the “birthers” had been enabled by a press corps intent on covering interesting controversies instead of serious news.
“Two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation,” Obama said. “It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.”
The president’s annoyance with the press is not new; he complains of the 24-hour news cycle or what’s happening on cable news frequently. Last month, visiting a school in Northern Virginia, he joked a teacher there was a journalist before she opted to “do something useful.” (He said he was kidding.)
What’s different now is that Obama is some ways engaged in the kind of debate he likes. For two years, much of the press coverage was dominated by the process of bills being passed in Congress, but the relative differences on views between the two parties was not particularly important because the Democrats controlled Congress and the White House.
Now, the Republican budget, with its proposals to cut spending and reform Medicare, provide a strong contrast with Obama’s vision and the kind of substantive policy debate the president believes should be covered closely by the press.
At times, it has been. But Trump’s candidacy and his controversial comments on birthers and other issues would likely have dominated the news on Wednesday if not for Obama’s speech. The news media tends to cover what is well, new, and Trump’s trip to New Hampshire was fresher than Obama’s proposals to reduce the deficit and cut gas prices.
Obama and his team Wednesday made the case that birthers should not detract from “very important, very vigorous debate,” on spending, in the words of White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
Of course, on Wednesday, it wasn’t immediately clear if Obama’s message worked: the press was covering still covering the birthers, but from the White House instead of Portsmouth,N.H., where Trump is.